Friday Flash Fiction – Christmas Department


All Annie wanted was a new winter coat, but to reach Ladies Clothing she first had to fight her way through the Christmas Department… and it was only November the first. Lurid pinks and purples, gaudy gold and silver glitter for as far as the eye could see. Grinning reindeer, misshapen polar bears, fluffy mongrels and ugly kittens; a zoofull of cheap toys, not cheap to buy, just cheaply made.

She pictured the crates full of creatures arriving at the store, multiplied them by all the other stores in the country, envisioned a container full of crates, thought of the container ships she saw at the docks, piled high enough to topple over and sink. She saw a whole ship of stuffed animals, an ocean full of container ships ploughing through the waves bringing an endless supply of Christmas tack.

Annie continued her walk, still no sign of clothes racks, but a forest of excess packaging enabling gormless customers to be charged ten times the usual amount for a mug or pair of boxer shorts. Boxes, cartons, tins and tubs full of the most useless things, with the odd chocolate or packet of shortbread thrown in; crossword toilet paper, pink fluffy covers for mobile phones, ipads and ears. She thought she had seen everything till she arrived at ‘Gifts for Your Best Friend’; Father Christmas and ballet outfits for your dog and stockings for your cat to hang up.

The winter coat was forgotten and Annie’s blood pressure was soaring as she stepped onto the escalator, narrowly avoiding dangling decorations. As she ascended through the floors she blended in with other shoppers and none of them would have guessed her secret.

‘Excuse me Madam,’ said a young lady ‘this floor is staff only, offices and the managerial suite.’

‘It’s the manager I wish to see.’

‘Do you have an appointment?’

Annie showed her a small card.

‘Certainly, I’ll show you straight through.’

Annie sailed through the door before the girl had a chance to knock.

‘Get rid of the tat.’

The middle aged man behind the large desk stood up in surprise. He had only just heard the chain of stores had been saved from going into receivership and had no idea who the anonymous buyer might be.


When Annie had her surprise win on the Pan European Mega Autumn Lottery she had been overwhelmed. All she needed was a new coat, but she had always fancied owning a little shop…

‘The Very Useful Shop…’

‘Pardon’ said the confused manager.

‘That’s what I shall call the company, once we’ve done a few alterations… you can start by having all that stuff downstairs packed up and sent back where it came from.’


By early December Annie had been nominated for Woman’s Hour ‘Woman of Power’ and was a guest on ‘Newsnight.’

‘How many container ships were sent back?’ asked the presenter.

‘Enough for the world to get the message.’

‘Did you spare a thought for the livelihood of the people who worked in the factories?’

‘Certainly, I bought the factories; I pay the staff a living wage and we have taken on new staff to cope with the alterations. The Very Useful Factory Company is up and running.’


At Annie’s local shopping centre and in scenes repeated around the country, the pound shops, Christmas bazaars, calendar and card shops were empty. Everyone was flocking to The Very Useful Shop and the most popular department was Make and Take; the local news filmed customers of all ages cutting and pasting cards, painting pottery, knitting scarves and creating new garments from recycled clothes. Piped music was banned and customers were entertained by local choirs, hand bell ringers and a grand piano.

Rival businesses queried whether it was still a shop, but the Ombudsman reported that customers paid for the high quality raw materials and the delicious food served in the Meet and Eat restaurant.

Ministers from various departments came to visit and so too did several Archbishops. It was rumoured that the Queen was planning to film part of her Christmas Speech there, but more exciting for the children was the news that The Real Father Christmas was coming to visit.


‘Christmas Department’ was a runner up in 5 Minute Fiction’s Christmas competition 2012 and was featured on Christmas Eve in the on line Story Advent Calendar.

It rounds up the collection of stories in Hallows and Heretics – twenty four tales to take you through the year.




Straw No More: 10-year-old Molly Steer’s mission to help the world stop single-use plastic

Environmental heroine of the week. It takes a child to speak up and adults who listen.

Life & Soul Magazine

Living on the doorstep of the Great Barrier Reef in Cairns, Queensland, 10-year-old Molly Steer has seen first-hand the impact of plastic pollution on the marine life that she adores.

Deeply passionate about the subject, Molly Steer was inspired to make change happen on a school-wide level after watching the documentary film A Plastic Ocean, which explores the fragile state of the oceans and the alarming truths about plastic pollution.

Molly Steer asked her Principal if the school’s tuckshop could stop using plastic straws. Her Principal agreed and had plastic straws removed entirely from the school, a move that even inspired surrounding schools to follow suit.

Her second environmental action soon followed, when last year she launched the initiative Straw No More Project, which implores individuals, businesses and schools to take a pledge to not only ditch plastic straws, but to educate students, customers, peers, friends or family about the grave impacts of plastic straw…

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Youtube Nativity

Last century, in a previous incarnation, I went to mother and toddler groups; no doubt they have to be called something else now, Kids and Karers? We did have one granny, a few child minders and a couple of fathers. It was one of these fathers who brought his video camera along, no one else possessed such equipment. We thought he was showing off and hovering over his poor child. The ethos of the club was to ignore the little ones while indulging in a good gossip. These days he would probably have to have a background check before even being allowed into the church hall, let alone with a video camera. I wonder where that little boy is now, perhaps hot housed into a world leader, his whole life recorded for posterity.


How would we all have fared, how different would our lives have been if we had grown up in the digital world, our pathetic appearance in the school nativity recorded and watched by grandchildren. I never got to be Mary or even an angel; in top infants I was merely the innkeeper’s wife with the line ‘Come this way.’ Would anyone want to see themselves coming last on sports day or dancing round the maypole in junior school? We did not get the ribbons tangled during our school’s centenary celebrations, but whether we looked elegant is another matter.

Our lives did not go completely unrecorded, Dad got a reel to reel tape recorder and secretly recorded Mum and the aunties, nobody could believe how awful their own voice sounded. When we had our school holiday in top juniors, several mothers went along as helpers, not mine thank goodness. One of these ladies had a cine camera, we were all going to be film stars. When it came time for the showing of the film, I did not appear at all.

There are families who have wonderful silent records of every Christmas, cine cameras were around for a long time before being superseded by videos, but most people took only photographs. Now every moment of a life can be recorded instantly, film or photo and broadcast to the world. Granddad on the other side of the world can see the new grandson having his umbilical cord cut. Great grandparents can see pretty in pink little miss precocious doing her first ballet exam at the age of two.


But I feel more than a twinge of regret when I think of all the missed Instagrams I could have taken, pictures shared on Facebook and blogs written of my pre digital life. We have many photo albums, but camera film could not be wasted taking pictures of weird things; night scenes through rain splattered bus windows or the ubiquitous snaps of meals out or in.

Perhaps the more obsessed bloggers would have started much earlier if they had had the opportunity.

Baby Blogger…

Day One; with a bit of help from Mummy and Daddy I am starting this blog to record my whole life. Today was a bit of a milestone as I said my first words… blog, post and WordPress. Of course I know lots more words than that, but my lips and tongue aren’t working properly yet, just one of the challenges of being a baby.

Day Two; I have my first two followers, Mummy and Daddy… Sam the cat isn’t on WordPress so he can’t Like me, but here is a picture of him.

Day Three; We went to Wriggle and Rhyme Story Time at the library, I gave it four out of five stars…


My novel Quarter Acre Block is inspired by my early years.


The Game of Life

Warning: Do you dare to play the game of life? If you don’t want to read about illness and death or you dislike dark humour please avoid this blog, but I hope you will continue to visit my Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday blogs.



Cyberspouse is feeling rather a fraud; having initiated drama, compassionate leave, flight booked, Christmas brought forward, he is feeling fine. But a letter arrives with NHS on the envelope; the copy of the letter sent to his GP from the oncologist. It wasn’t a joke after all, there it is in black and white. But there are still plenty of jokes in the house. We catch up with a film on television, looks like a good British comedy, winter comfort watching, all the familiar actors. ‘Finding your Feet’, retired people having fun, we know all about that. Our retired friends dash around the world, passionately pursue hobbies, whiz around with their bus passes or lounge at their beach hut. We do all of those except the first. But the film has included all the cliches, the sad widower, the wife with dementia and then… one of the characters has cancer, but of course doesn’t want to tell anybody and spoil their fun… you have to laugh, that was a good choice of film…




Silly Saturday – Brother Bernard’s Blog

Brother Bernard’s Blog

Translated from the original Latin.

Greetings from the north. How hast thy week been? I send news to brother bloggers of unholy happenings. Until last week the name of Johannes Gutenberg had never been uttered inside these walls and I hope it never will be again.

I had just returned from my daily constitutional, gazing upon the wondrous waters of the North Sea, contemplating completing Leviticus today, when Brother Franz hove into sight, calling out in a most undignified manner as he dismounted. We had not seen him for many months so were we not eager to hear what news from the continent?

‘Gutenberg is coming’ were his words.

After being enclosed with the Abbot for a fair while he broke bread with us in the refectory and spoke strange words… of printing presses and moveable metal type. I now understand this to mean there are those who would replace men of God writing The Word of God with a contraption to produce many Holy Bibles.

How can a machine write elegant text and illuminate with cinnabar, saffron, verdigris, lapis lazuli, silver and gold? No my friends, it cannot, so therefore I tell you we have nothing to fear, the name of Johannes Gutenberg will soon be forgotten , Gutenberg has not arrived, nor ever will. We shall carry on with our Holy written work as before.



Friday Flash Fiction – Secret Society

It started as a joke, Barbara got the idea from Saga magazine; she thought it would pep up our sex life.  Dressing up and meeting new people; I wouldn’t call it an orgy and we didn’t believe we were really worshipping the devil. Obviously we met in a deconsecrated church, we didn’t want to upset the new lady vicar at Saint Stephens, especially as Barbara’s flower arranging club meets in their hall. Saint Peter’s has gone Pentecostal, so they would have taken us too seriously. The community centre was off limits with all their health and safety rules.

We managed to attract quite a few young people, which was nice. As Barbara said, in the dark what does age matter and as we were all anonymous it was very pleasant and relaxed. I was High Priest, but we were due to elect a new committee in the spring. We had bought all the costumes and paraphernalia on the internet, amazing how many sites there are. It was through the internet that Geoffrey got in touch, a mousy middle aged man who Barbara tended to avoid, but he was a good addition to the group, had some very imaginative ideas and some good props.


A typical meeting? Well we didn’t kill any chickens, I get queasy at the sight of blood. The setting of the semi derelict church made it very atmospheric; burning of herbs, spreading of salt, raising arms, throw in some Latin, then a few fertility rites. Barbara said she was having nothing to do with Geoffrey, he was creepy. She preferred the young chap who worked in Sainsburys, we did not let on we recognised him of course and I doubt he recognised us behind the shopping trolley.

When did it start to go wrong? The girl who had the fit was fine afterwards, lucky we had a paramedic amongst us, but we didn’t see her again. We did wonder if it was she who contacted the local paper. It was Geoffrey who spotted the planted reporter. I was just summoning ‘The Devil’ when we thought we heard a snigger. Geoffrey looked him straight in the eye, his usual reedy voice sounded different that night.

Do you think he has horns or will he arrive in a dinner suit, tall dark and suave? He’s here already, has been all along.

I’ll just catch the football on telly if I leave now said the young man shakily, adding as he safely reached the outside door and if I wanted to attend an orgy it wouldn’t be with you lot.

Numbers were down at the next meeting, though I could hear excited mumblings as I got robed up in the vestry. I was just about to start my opening incantation when Geoffrey interrupted.

We were just having an interesting discussion; did you hear what The Pope said yesterday? For a priest to abuse children is as evil as conducting a black mass; rather touching I thought, at least he gets it.

I didn’t understand what Geoffrey was getting at and assured him we were all consenting adults who broke no laws. It was as if he could read my mind.

No, you don’t GET it do you, I’m re… I mean HE’s REAL. Why have people in the past couple of centuries considered themselves cleverer than their ancestors?

By now he was addressing all of us, a chill I can’t describe had descended upon the room.

Why do those in the Western World dismiss traditions in the third world as ignorance. You give Him no credit at all; murderers are always mentally disturbed, forgotten their medication or taken too many steroids…or you blame it on other innocent humans, too much bureaucracy, not enough bureaucracy, hilarious that no one dares blame crime on Evil. Of course it’s the more insidious influence I enjoy, infiltrating every human institution.

Can we just get on with the evening entertainment called out a voice muffled by his mask.

That’s all it is to you isn’t it, all of you.

Geoffrey seemed different now, taller, his voice deeper.

I don’t need all this play acting, but what will you play next, the end game?

We all shuffled nervously, some sidled towards the door. Whoever he was you couldn’t argue with what he said.

Pathetic; every century you think you have the answer to improving the human condition; religion, science, education for all, democracy, communism, medicine, love, communication, even space exploration, how on earth (forgive the pun) is that likely to work? By the way, there is nothing out there so don’t bother looking.

Then he was gone, I mean literally, he was there, then he wasn’t.

Muffled voice said he was going to call it a night, wasn’t in the mood any more, nobody else spoke, they just shuffled off.

Barbara said her instincts about him had been right, but she still refuses to talk about any of it. I suggested we could still dress up at home, but she said rather sharply that it would hardly be the same.

They’re turning it into a Tesco now, that redundant church.







Paradise lost: fabric artist, Barbara Williamson loses her home

I remembered reading Barbara’s amazing story on Sue’s blog a while back, but until today did not realise she was one of the survivors of the terrible Paradise fire. Read her story here.

Sue Vincent's Daily Echo

A few months ago, I featured the work of American fabric artist, Barbara Williamson, whose use of joy and colour in her art quilts delighted me and whose inspiring story is one of incredible determination.

At the time, Barbara wrote:

“I’m a paraplegic and paralyzed from mid-chest down because I was shot in the chest in 1969 with a 45. I was pregnant at the time of the shooting and it left me in a coma for a month. My mother came to pray for me everyday and I believe that is why I survived. Thankfully the spirits were looking out for me and my child lived.

When I came home to my mother’s house after being released from the hospital, I had my child on my mother’s front porch with the help of a friend and my mom. My baby was a preemy, 3lb 18oz.

I had amnesia…

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Tackling Taboos

Mum and Dad bought their first house when I was six; they were very happy to live on the ground and have a garden and Mum said we wouldn’t move again now we had our own house. But the new estate was a long walk from the shopping parade in the little town. Luckily the greengrocer came round in his van, the butcher’s boy came round on his bike and the milkman delivered a box of groceries weekly.

 When I was old enough to go cycling off on my own I would be sent on urgent errands to the little parade of shops on the next estate. Sometimes Mum would give me a note to hand to the lady in the drapers. She would reach under the counter, put a packet in a brown paper bag and give it to me, these were Mum’s sanitary towels.

We emigrated to Western Australia when I was eleven, exactly five years after Mum said we weren’t going to move again. After a few weeks at school the summer holidays started and so did my first period. I was not shocked because my mother had told me what to expect, but I was mortified and furious that it had happened so soon, ruining the holidays. One day I came home and said Christine’s mother wanted to take us all swimming. Mum said Did you tell her you had your period. I replied that I had been too embarrassed. Going to the local chemist was also nerve racking, the sanitary products were not hidden away, far from it, illuminated signs advertised Modess in larger stores. But if I went into the chemist and there was a man behind the counter, or a male customer walked in, I sneaked out empty handed.

I started at my new high school of fourteen hundred pupils. One day all the boys were ordered to stay in the classrooms and all the girls ordered to the largest quadrangle to be addressed by the headmistress. The talk was about the correct use of the new incinerets being installed in the girls’ toilets. I was always rather nervous of these machines.

By strange coincidence they were discussing periods on Woman’s Hour, BBC Radio Four, just as I started writing this blog; no taboos on this daily programme, they talk about everything, but modern schoolgirls still feel periods aren’t treated a normal.

 Men would not put up with it, or perhaps not survive. Forty years or more of our bodies getting ready to conceive every month, keeping the equipment working when we may want to use it only once, twice or never. Suffering varying from cramps to endometriosis laying you up every month. In my mother’s young days at the bank she was dispatched every month in a cab to deliver her poor colleague home, ill with her period. They must have had an understanding boss. Modern life has not dispatched with the age old problems, but recently there has been a flurry of discussion from every angle.

A while ago a marathon runner apparently decided to run without period protection, I’ll leave the rest to your imagination. It sounds like my worst school PE nightmare come true and I’m not sure what she was trying to prove, that we shouldn’t be ashamed presumably. There are plenty of cultures where women were and still are ( according to the posters in Ladies’ toilets at motorway services ) expected to go and sit out in the desert till their period has finished. Some major religions connect menstruation to spiritual impurity.

But even when periods are treated as normal and healthy there are other aspects which have come up for serious discussion lately.

 There is the environmental issue and some women are making their own reusable pads; things have turned full circle, my mother and her sisters made their own pads out of torn up old sheets and had to soak them in a bucket of salt water.

Then there is period poverty. At first we smugly thought it only happened in third world countries and to refugees on the move with none of life’s necessities. Then it turned out many school girls in Britain can’t afford to buy sanitary protection, making my teenage trials and tribulations seem petty. Scotland is leading the world in supplying free products to all schools and colleges. In the rest of Britain charities are donating products to schools and food banks. 

My novel Quarter Acre Block is inspired by our family’s migation to Austalia. The story is told from two points of view, eleven year old Jennifer’s and her mother’s.

The Game of Life

Warning: Do you dare to play the game of life? If you don’t want to read about illness and death or you dislike dark humour please avoid this blog, but I hope you will continue to visit my Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday blogs.

Round Three – Coffee with Dinosaurs

It’s Good to Talk.

I had an uncle who was always talking about cancer, before and after his retirement. In the company magazine he would read of ex colleagues and their demise, he would meet people out walking the dog and hear about which bits they’d had removed. He would recall a friend coming out from his hospital appointment saying ‘That’s it Roy, I’m a gonner, if I was a dog they’d have me put down.’

A friend’s father died of a ‘trapped nerve’.

Another friend’s brother, still young, could do little but lie on the floor in pain, but ‘they couldn’t tell him he had terminal cancer, he couldn’t take it.’

I’ve always thought one should know everything and tell others what’s going on. Then get every pain killer available.

I can’t remember not being aware of cancer. My grandmother died of bowel cancer aged 56, a year after my grandfather died suddenly. He had been very happy, having a little grandchild ( me ) and his wife home from hospital after a successful operation for her cancer… then he dropped dead, out early in the game of life. This is the story I heard from my mother; she saw my grandmother getting undressed and was shocked to see lumps on her body, the cancer had returned. Mum asked why she hadn’t gone back to the doctors. She had ‘given up’ after my grandfather died. But Bowel cancer couldn’t be cured back then anyway.

Little Rooms

Hospitals are full of little rooms with people sitting outside waiting to go in them.

At the beginning Cyberspouse was at the hospital for tests and when he was taken in the little room, he knew it wasn’t good. When all the tests were finished we sat outside the oncologist’s little room and watched the Macmillan nurse and the other nurse go in first, then we waited… ‘Mustn’t forget to turn our phones off,’ I said ‘don’t want to get in trouble in the head master’s office…’

Ironically it was the doctor’s phone that went off, just as we were getting to the crucial bit!

Next we went in another little room with the Macmillan nurse, cosy armchairs and a coffee table with teapot and cups on a tray – but they were empty, just for show.

Hospital, Tesco and Dinosaurs

We can get to the hospital cycling, walking, two buses or drive, but the car park always looks busy. Easier to park in the big Tesco as long as you won’t be more than three hours, or you can park down the lane that leads to the golf course.

We have walked to the hospital several times, a pleasant 50 minute walk on a sunny autumn day. That day it was raining and we had to be there at ten past nine. We had already decided we would go to the golf club house for coffee afterwards as we had parked in the lane. On the way, Cyberspouse spotted a twenty pence piece on the ground. ‘That was lucky’ I said.

We had heard about the dinosaur crazy golf; as we wound our way down the lane they came into sight, real large dinosaurs which moved, right in front of the clubhouse. A surreal end to a surreal morning. This was really crazy golf. Perhaps professional golfers should try dinosaur golf, it would make it more interesting on television.